Introduction: 3D Printing Visual Aids for the Vision-Impaired

It recently occurred to me that all signages I've seen in braille are those embossed from metal and I wondered what's preventing us from making it out of plastic, a much cheaper material than metal. In addition, it allows us to create method of crowdsourced accessibility for the vision-impaired.

With this new inspiration, I followed my train of thought of creating a more accessible space for the visually impaired through 3d printing and I came up with a few good ideas, all of which are centered around making the normally untouchable touchable or just how do we make normal objects more accessible.

I went through numerous ideas, and prototyped some of them to be 3d printed. I've always wanted to learn to CAD well but most CAD software like solidworks and fusion360 have a steep learning curve. That's when tinkercad came in and allowed me to learn some basic 3d cadding skills and prototype in a pinch.

Step 1: Researching Up Braille Standards

I researched some braille standards and found a PDF with all the values for both a braille spacing on paper and on signages. I took the liberty highlighting all the important information and values needed for cadding.

Step 2: CAD the Embossed Cylinders.

Following the standards, I cadded all the small cylinders for the embossed portions. According to the standards for signages shown in blue , each cylinder should be 1.55mm in diameter and 0.75mm in height.

Then, I copied and pasted to make 6 individual cylinders spaced by 1.45mm. It's easier to tell how far apart they are by turning on the snap to grid feature and dropping the ruler into view.

Step 3: Add the Frame

Adjust the height of the cylinders so that they are embossed from the frame. In my case, I wanted my frame to be 1mm thick, so I adjusted the heights of all the cylinders to be 1.75mm.

I did the calculations as to how big the frame should be given the standard for the distances between characters. This turns out to be 16.05mm x 9.80mm.

Lastly I copied and pasted the templates for the number of letters I needed. I found it easiest to group the cylinders with the frame and then copying and pasting.

Step 4: Spell Out the Letters

Now for the easy task of spelling out the letters. I just ungrouped it and then deleted some of the cylinders to spell out tech martian.

Step 5: 3d Print It

I sliced it using my 3d printer's slicer which is cura and then 3d printed it on my ultimaker. The results were pretty good. It could be improved though by making the extraction length longer and faster.

Step 6: More Ideas

In the meanwhile I explored some of the ideas I had, as well as explore tinkercad more. All of which are centered towards bring the 'untouchable' and making it touchable. There are many wonders of the universe we take for granted. Beautiful visuals we perceive in a 2d imagery and are sadly stuck in that form.

Step 7: Making the 'untouchable' Touchable

There's a couple of thing that jumped out to me when I was looking at tinkercad shape generators. One of them was a snowflake and the other is a ripple. You've probably seen individual snowflakes in real life or thrown a stone in the water and watch the ripples. When I saw the snowflake and math function shape generator, I thought these could be prime examples and easy to 3d print something that is hard to feel to visualize.

I printed very small models just to test out the waters (no pun intended). The results were decent. With the fine setting, the ultimaker still struggled with printing fine details. But it does the job for helping the visual impaired feel what a snowflake or ripple is.

Step 8: Tactile Painting Modelling

One of the more crazier ideas I had was converting a beautiful painting or image into something tactile. I chose the northern lights as a reference image. My idea was giving the vision impaired a chance to observe the beauty of phenomena that we take for granted like the northern lights or nebulae.

My idea to turn this into a tactile painting is by drawing different cylinders to represent the visible light spectrum. The higher the energy the spikier and longer the cylinder is. On the contrary the lower the energy the duller and shorter the cylinder is. The difference can be more easily perceived on a larger canvas. In addition, I thought of making it more dense when the colour is more intense and less dense where the colours is lighter.

I modelled this on tinkercad by first constructing 6 cylinders for 6 different colours and changed their colours. Then I created a blank canvas that's 0.5mm thick. Then I manually used my own interpretation to paint my own painting of the northern lights on tinkercad. You can see I'm not very artistic. In the future, I think this is better represented by using image segmentation through computer vision and then automatically generating a shape with tinkercad's shape generator. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to make one, but if anyone wants to take a stab at it, feel free.

Step 9: Tactile Painting Printing

I printed this on my Ultimaker using the default fine setting and a 0.6mm nozzle. I am not sure how to interpret the results. With a very small canvas the differences in the height is very difficult to perceive especially for myself who can't even perceive the differences in the signage. However, the differences in the red, yellow, and orange colours are pretty easy to tell from the green, blue, and violet. Like the braille signage, I think this could work better with increasing the retraction rate and length.

Step 10: Tactile Die

I saw JON-A-TRON's instructable on 3d printing and tinkercad basics and I thought I could make an 'accessible' die. So using the same technique as the signage, I started modelling the cylinders and rotating it to put it in all sides of the die. Then, I represented the numbers by deleting the cylinders.

This is when I realized my critical error. A die does not have a 'right side up.' So how can you tell what letter or number it is without orientation? Easy! Add an underline just like how Uno cards have one for the number 6 and 9. I cadded up some cubes stretched out to be small rectangular prisms and attached it to all sides of the die.

Step 11: Tactile Die Printing

I am all too familiar with the difficulties of removing supports, so I wanted to minimize support printed using the 45 degree angle technique. Supports aren't required if the angle is less than or equal to 45 degrees.

Unfortunately the printing was unsuccessful and resulted in a glob. So I went back to the original approach and just printed it with a lot of supports and carefully removed it with a blade.

Step 12: Other Ideas

I encourage you to think about and develop your own models.

Some where I derived inspiration from as I was formulating my project idea included: 3D printing Earthquake models, Emergency egress models, and a topography models.

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